Helen’s son is a war photographer who’s been missing in the middle east for the past several weeks, perhaps months. Well, not so much missing as kidnapped and held for ransom.
The CIA and FBI are ‘helping’ Helen by telling her to keep this a secret, but a heart-pounding, nausea-inducing secret like this can really make triggers out of literally everything and anything, and it’s hard to keep her ER colleagues in the dark when they know her so well.
The U.S. government doesn’t pay ransoms, and keeps reminding her it’s illegal for her to do it also. Not that she has any money. Selling her house would provide only a fraction of the demanded sum, and a real estate agent grimly informs her it’s a tear-down anyway. With few options and increasingly hostile communications from the kidnappers, Helen (Susan Sarandon) turns to the only person who can possibly help her – Charlotte, the mother of another kidnapped journalist who was successful in getting her son returned home. Off the record, Charlotte (Edie Falco) fund-raised the ransom among her wealthy friends and had someone walk it across the border for her in order to evade detection. They’re planning the same for Helen’s son, with a friend and colleague of his, Sam (Matt Bomer) willing to make the actual transaction. Helen can scarcely believe her son might actually come home, and isn’t sure what kind of broken man he’ll be if he does. But her focus remains on getting the work done, all of it underground, away from the unhelpful but watchful eyes of government agencies.
Director Maryam Keshavarz makes some choices that make the movie feel a little cold and distant. While I believe whole-heartedly that Helen was committed to getting her son back, we never see her cry, we never see her crack. Yes, she’s hardened by her ER nursing, but she’s got a soft spot or two, so why no cracks in the facade? And why only drop us in on the action when the son’s been missing for several months? I feel we miss a vital part of the story by omitting Helen’s first contact with the kidnappers, or the moment she realizes she hasn’t heard from her son in too long a time. Instead we only meet her when she’s navigating bureaucracy, which is a bit dry and made me feel removed from any urgency.
There might be a bit of an awards push to get Sarandon a nomination but I’d be fine if it didn’t amount to anything. The story is upsetting but not nearly moving enough. It feels diluted. Viper Club delivers a small still where its title promised a deadly bite.
Sean the weatherman has a meltdown on the air, so he’s sent home for some mandatory personal time off. His partner left him recently, and left a large, unpainted circle on their deck to boot. Pretty, soft-hands Sean (Matt Bomer) is out of his element in the hardware store. He buys the paint with help but the actual painting doesn’t go well, so the next day he trolls the lineup of available day workers and brings home Ernesto.
Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) doesn’t speak English and Sean doesn’t speak Spanish. Odd couple alert!
The thing about this movie is, it sounds pretty light and predictable. And it is. But that doesn’t do it justice, because in fact it was one of my favourite movies at the festival. And maybe that’s because 90% of the movies I saw were depressing as shit and this one comes with a hint of optimism. But it’s the movie that I needed without knowing I needed it, and I felt like a life line.
Poor Sean. His friends and coworkers see him floundering and all agree that he needs to talk to someone, but to Sean, the act of doing so is the same as admitting that he’s alone and things are bad. He can’t. But he does find himself opening up to Ernesto. Ernesto who continues to be paid $20 an hour for “painting” finds himself hiking the canyons instead, and posing for Instagram pics. Although it looks like friendship, Sean is using Ernesto in at least 2 strange ways:
- As a therapist. A therapist who is easy to talk to because he can’t understand him, thus there is no fear of judgement.
- As a replacement boyfriend. Sean has Ernesto doing couple-y things, like renting a boat to row around the lake, and going to parties where he lets everyone assume they’re dating.
It’s not a great pretext for a relationship of any kind, but it’s done with such sweetness from both sides it’s hard to condemn…until it inevitably escalates. But your heart aches because on some level we all understand this awkward reaching out, the inability to call it what it really is, the denial and the loss that motivates it.
Matt Bomer is very vulnerable in this, he teeters between faux-cheeriness and complete abandon and at times we’re scared for him because he feels like our friend and we see him spinning out. Alejandro Patiño is great too – the perfect mix of skeptical and concerned. I love these two together so much that I don’t want the movie to end. I don’t want Sean to get better, to outgrow a friendship I understand is toxic for him. This movie makes me selfish because it has entertained me and sustained my soul during a dark day of movie watching. Papi Chulo is a huggable movie, perfect for watching in bed with a big bag of pretzels.
David doesn’t see much of his father, Cal, and he’s not exactly impressed to find out that their forced bonding time will be away from the city, spent in cold and vast Montana, hunting. Cal could use his once-a-year visit to get to know his teenage son, find out what he likes and what he’s good at, but instead he uses the precious time to impose his own interests on the kid. I guess that’s the temptation when you have kids, you want to make them in your own image – and it’s not just fathers, mothers do it too. Sometimes even grandparents. And poor David – he so desperate for his dad’s attention. It can be really hard on a kid to be bent into someone else’s hopes and dreams, but it’s rarely as dangerous as it turns out to be for Cal and David, who set out hunting for big game but end up being hunted themselves.
Basically, when the poop makes physical contact with an oscillating air current distribution device, no one’s surprised, and you might even think Cal (Matt Bomer, not entirely believable) deserves it, a little. Walking Out isn’t exactly the father-son bonding movie it sets itself up to be, but there’s something to be said for intimacy in adversity. And campfire spooning. And eating bear sushi. There’s no denying that this movie is every single mother’s worst nightmare, and I’m 100% certain that when David’s mom put him on a plane to Montana, this is exactly the worst case scenario she envisioned. This movie may inspire adjustments to custody arrangements like nobody’s business, but it’s quite beautifully filmed, and edited to wring masculine, jerky-scented tears from the macho men who watch it.
And this is why it’s important to have representation in all levels of film making, including criticism. Which is not to say that a woman wouldn’t find this film enjoyable, only that I watched it with very different eyes. Eyes that couldn’t praise a father for having instilled survival tips in his son when that father is the reason they’re in such grave and mortal circumstances in the first place. I couldn’t forgive Cal for foisting on his own son the very thing that drove a wedge between him and his father (Bill Pullman).
Themes as old as time, with cinematography (by Todd McMullen) as fresh as the powder framed within it. This movie does a lot of things right, but I can’t excuse the toxic masculinity on display.